Adeeb Kamal Ad-Deen
From Mesopotamia to Australia:
The poet is the poet
By: Shakir Hassan Radhi
Former Assistant Professor,
College of Languages, University of Baghdad
Writing about Adeeb Kamal Ad-Deen’s poetry is not an easy task, especially that I have not seen him from more than fifteen years. However, reading his recent poems reminds me of the fact that I am dealing with a poet who has been progressing towards the realization of the function of poetry, taking into account his deep Mesopotamian background that enriches his language, imagery, diction and discourse. Though Adeeb is inspired by a long tradition of poetry that enriched his career, he remains unique in his use of the poetic and philosophic heritage that inspired his poems, a material that animates his life and ours. Because the material that we draw upon to make poems is also the stuff of wills, death certificates, constitutions and declarations of eternal love between real human beings, “breaking and re-writing of the rules that govern non-poetic language are more than indulgence or entertainment” as Richard Bradford puts it (2010:41).
As such, poetry offers a means of expression in which uniqueness seems attainable. It does so by providing a catalyst between two independent networks of conventions, the intrinsically poetic and those that poetry shares with non-poetic language. (Ibid).
Applying these concepts to Adeeb’s experience, we will discover that he had succeeded in employing simple but symbolic language to convey his deep experience that relies on old Babylonian (Note: he was born in Babel), culture that seeped into the holy books and constituted sacred beliefs in human history. Yet, the reader of Something Wrong, finds that, my ex-student, and I have the honor to say that, embodied Jacobson’s theory of the poetic function which “projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection into the axis of combination”, (Quoted in Bradford, p.43), by closing the gap between language and reality. The poet selects words not according to a sense of duty to an extrinsic frame of reference. Rather, Adeeb becomes possessed of the anti-logic that reveals itself in almost all his poems where the relationship between images and ideas supersede any responsibility to notions of order or reason that prevail outside the poem:
There is something wrong in the bed,
In the bird that flew over the bed,
In the poem that was written
To describe the pleasures of the bed
And in the surprise waiting from the bed at the end.
There is something wrong in everything around and within us and our world. This is the vision of a poet who experienced wars throughout history, and not only the eight-year Iraq-Iran war or the US-led invasion of Iraq. He takes us back to the human condition and the sense of alienation and fear in “Noah came and went”, reflecting the sense of belonging and exile, and existential dilemma that shaped the lives of our Sumerian ancestors, represented by Gilgamesh’s search for immortality, the sense of loss and Death. These are universal themes that Adeeb Kamal Ad-Deen deals with in his poetry.
Like any other universal poet, Adeeb delves deeply into the human condition, a leitmotif that repeats itself in almost every line that he writes. Even his fascination with “letters” has changed into an obsession or into a renewing desire that needs to be saturated but in vain. This is the reason why the theme of the letters reappears time and again:
And the letter frequently burns with death and love –
Put your fingers to your lips
As a sign of silence. “Will of the Letter”.
Here lies the holiness of the Sufi experience that may reveal something that others could not recognize. The poet, in his everlasting travels and alienations, recognizes, like mystics and prophets, the fact that Man is doomed:
The ship is in the middle of the sea.
The ship is moving with our bodies:
I and you . “Where to?”
The “I” and “You” remind us of Eliot’s “Let’s go you and I” in his Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The “you” here may be a universal “you”. All of us share the same experience in different environments, in Babel or the “country of kangaroo” (Australia) where the poet lives now, The same “Something Wrong” or “Drops of Love” or “Magician” could be met in one way or another.
The Western or English speaking reader may find some of Adeeb’s images and expressions strange to them. It is true because Adeeb stems from and derives his feelings, images and words from another part of this world, where life has been subjected to the will of the tyrant or the dictator, the god who decides everything. People may think that poets of the East may exaggerate when they tell us about the powers of the police officer that enable him to confiscate your words, poems, novels, and even your dreams.
In “My New Poem”, Adeeb reveals the hidden “policeman” that lies inside each one of the people of his native hand.
- What do you hold in your hand?
“A new poem” said I.
- What do you say in it?
However, the poem declines to disclose its secret, the eternal secret of poets.
In “Depths”, Adeeb stresses the mystical trend that characterizes his poetry, relying on the same structure of repetition that constitutes the refrain:
River è heart è poem –
Letter è dot è Sufi è God who is
“Looking to my slaughtered bird with weeping eyes”
Furthermore, “In Little Dust”, the poet sums up the human condition in the image of dust; nothing will remain but only a little dust or a handful of dust that Eliot used to show the terror of the tragic end, “I will show you fear in a handful of dust”
It is the absurdity, that the Bible and all other holy books, myths, and plays that overwhelms the human condition:
Little of the beautiful women’s beauty will remain
Little of the nudity at sea and in bed, ..
Even the cries of football and bullfighting fans will disappear. Memories, photos, love letters, cries of the orchestra, poems, refugees’ tears, rusty boats, “yes, everything will turn to dust”
Thou art from dust and to dust thou shall return. This is the epitome of the human fate that terrifies the poet as it did with poets throughout history.
Nevertheless, Adeeb shifts the attention and feedings from the state of optimism to “cheerful optimism” through the use of oxymoron(s) in “Interesting, Strange, and Amazing”:
- What is the color of the sea, poet?
- Ships and women
- What is the color of freedom?
- Bread and salt.
- Bread and salt?
Finally, the poet discloses the secret of poetry writing, unlocks the trade’s secret:
- I enter in the letter
Wearing the secret of the letter
Weeping, thinking, napping
Dreaming, hallucinating, dancing, and dying.
All mystic poets follow the same approach of melting in the world of words, magical beauty, drinking the wine of nature and identifying themselves with the universe and its creator, the “sun that speaks inside my heart”.
This is the essence of poetry and faith. As such, Adeeb conveys an eternal message, that is, the poet, like the fish, cannot live out of his “water”, the source of life. That is very strange and amazing.
Adeeb Kamal Ad-Deen introduces us, Iraqis and Australians, to a world that combines existentialism with mysticism; to “a delicious death”, a strange juxtaposition that many readers find out of date or obsolete due to the ICT revolution that made us forget the rituals of reading of and listening to poetry. It is this sense of belonging to a global family that a poet like Adeeb seeks to reach in order to redress our declining planet, plighted with wars, disasters, tsunamis, nuclear horrors, material consumerism and alienation!
Poetry remains, however, the only form of writing or expression that enables us to experience and enjoy living and loving. This is the reason why we write and read poetry, interact with unusual or extraordinary experiences that poets, like Kamal Ad-Deen, introduce us to.
As he says in another poem that the tree of letters will remain despite all tragedies, charged with light and joy.
- Adeeb Kamal Ad-Deen, Something Wrong , Salamt Press, Adelaide – Australia 2012
- Richard Bradford, Poetry, the Ultimate Guide,
Shaker Hassan Radhi was born in Baghdad in 1955. He holds a B.A in translation (1979) and M.A in English literature (1987-Baghdad University). The title of his thesis was The City and the Individual in Louis MacNeice’s Poetry. He had worked as instructor of English poetry and literature at the College of Arts, Almustansyria University-Baghdad and the College of Languages-University of Baghdad for almost 13 years. Mr. Radhi was promoted to the title of assistant professor in English poetry after writing and publishing three original papers on William Butler Yeats, Philip Larkin and Robert Graves. Besides, he taught translation and simultaneous interpreting for post-graduate diploma students and supervised three theses.
As a writer and researcher, Shaker Hassan published scores of papers and articles on modern Iraqi and English writers and poets in periodicals and literary magazines in Iraq and United Arab Emirates. He has been working as translation instructor at private institutes, legal translator and conference interpreter since the year 2000. He has translated many books, articles and poetry collections into both Arabic and English. He is married and a father of two children.